The German designer, acclaimed for her meticulous brand of minimalism, marked a big fashion comeback in 2009 when she partnered with the Japanese retailer for a new brand of well-crafted fast fashion. The fall 2011 season was the last for +J — until now.
It’s clear Sander still has more to say, and her latest exacting silhouettes for women include a short puffer jacket with fluted sleeves, neat merino wool cardigans and multistripe shirts with band collars. Men’s looks include an oversized work jacket, a down-filled blouson and sleek chinos.
Sander left her namesake brand twice in the early Aughts, and then for good in 2013, and took a leave of absence from the fashion world. In 2017, she was the subject of a major retrospective at Frankfurt’s Museum of Applied Arts.
Here, she talks about how the crisis has affected her design approach, her beauty aspirations, and why the perfect coat is a shifting quantity.
WWD: It’s been more than a decade since your landmark collaboration with Uniqlo. What took you so long?
Jil Sander: My last show for Jil Sander was in 2013. In the last years, I kept my creativity busy by building, gardening and preparing a museum show of my work. Meanwhile, I kept in touch with Uniqlo, and now the time felt right for a restart of +J.
WWD: You’ve had many returns in fashion.
J.S.: Yes, returning seems to be my karma. I wanted to react to disposable fashion, and I knew what could be done in a cooperation with Uniqlo. The buying power, logistics and global distribution network of my Japanese partners make it possible to produce high quality design at democratic prices.
WWD: Crisis affects designers in different ways: How did it change your own approach to dressing and your idea about how people might want to dress?
J.S.: Of course, the pandemic was on our minds and influenced the design. I looked for larger shapes that can shelter us, for more softness and kindness. But my general approach hasn’t changed. I tried to advance my idea of sophisticated 3-D designs that underline the personality of the wearer. So, I took care to fit the volumes in a way that defines the body. I feel that we look for smart, well-tailored pieces that give us a boost of self-assurance and prepare us for a new start.
WWD: A prominent buyer once told me that just when you think Jil Sander has designed the most beautiful navy coat, she designs an even better one.
J.S.: I continue to work on basic items like the navy coat or the white shirt and alter them according to material innovation, contemporary proportions and cuts. This ongoing redesign process is like a study of time. If you like the new version better, to me that’s the essence of modernity. Since attractive clothes are not only about quality and classic cuts, they also ought to express the zeitgeist.
WWD: Is there a particular garment you enjoy designing the most? If so, which one and why?
J.S.: Maybe, I would name the Chesterfield coat. A coat is always shifting in proportions, it has lots of details I want to adjust according to a contemporary sensibility.
WWD: Yves Saint Laurent once said he wished he had invented blue jeans. If you could have invented one thing in fashion, what would it be?
J.S.: I guess, today, the light down jacket. When I saw the first light down in a hiking store 20 years ago, it struck me that this would be the new fur coat. I had been shaving furs to make them lighter, but the light down was their substitute. I do care for invention, first of all in fabrics, but also in new ways of workmanship. We had many innovative ideas in the past.
WWD: The fashion world is accelerating into digital. Do you shop much online?
J.S.: I don’t shop online.
WWD: Outside of fashion, is there anything you would like to try designing?
J.S.: I once designed the interior of a sports car, but I look at everything with a designer’s eye. And I would love to translate my experience and my idea of purity into a beauty line.
WWD: Last you spoke to WWD, you had a big exhibition in Frankfurt. Any plans to do any other such project around your fashion career?
J.S.: I am working on a book project. And our exhibition may travel, once we see better times.
WWD: Your +J collection drops today: Any predictions on bestsellers, or any advice for people who might not have your expert eye about how to choose the right thing?
J.S.: The collection is quite concentrated, but well coordinated. I’d advise to buy a whole look rather than just one piece. And one should keep in mind that larger volumes don’t translate into smaller sizes, since all sizes are body-fitted for comfort.